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Someone To Talk To

Mario Luis Small

Publication Date - 25 October 2017

ISBN: 9780190661427

296 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock


When people are facing difficulties, they often feel the need for a confidant-a person to vent to or a sympathetic ear with whom to talk things through. How do they decide on whom to rely? In theory, the answer seems obvious: if the matter is personal, they will turn to a spouse, a family member, or someone close. In practice, what people actually do often belies these expectations.

In Someone To Talk To, Mario Luis Small follows a group of graduate students as they cope with stress, overwork, self-doubt, failure, relationships, children, health care, and poverty. He unravels how they decide whom to turn to for support. And he then confirms his findings based on representative national data on adult Americans.

Small shows that rather than consistently relying on their "strong ties," Americans often take pains to avoid close friends and family, as these relationships are both complex and fraught with expectations. In contrast, they often confide in "weak ties," as the need for understanding or empathy trumps their fear of misplaced trust. In fact, people may find themselves confiding in acquaintances and even strangers unexpectedly, without having reflected on the consequences.

Someone To Talk To reveals the often counter-intuitive nature of social support, helping us understand when people will keep depression secret from their close ones, why people may avoid reporting sexual assault, how people may decide whom to come out to, and why even competitors can be among a person's best confidants.

Amid a growing wave of big data and large-scale network analysis, Small returns to the basic questions of whom we connect with, how, and why, upending decades of conventional wisdom on how we should think about and analyze social networks.


  • Explains the surprising fact that people often confide highly personal matters to people they are not close to, and at times even barely know
  • Eschews big data and large-scale network analysis to revisit fundamental questions of who we connect with, why, and how we use those connections

About the Author(s)

Mario L. Small, Grafstein Professor of Sociology at Harvard University, is an expert on poverty, personal networks, cities, and social science methods. He is the author of Villa Victoria: The Transformation of Social Capital in a Boston Barrio and Unanticipated Gains: Origins of Network Inequality in Everyday Life.


"Small provides an excellent foray into the deeper social network question of who individuals talk to about issues important to them. Further, his critiques on commonly used methods are well founded and timely. I would highly recommend this book not just for social network analysts or sociologists but health professionals hoping to better understand the social influences that may impact health." -- Tyler Prochnow, Baylor University, World Medical and Health Policy

"In Someone To Talk To, Mario Small roots social network analysis in the messy, contradictory, and fortuitous nature of human interaction. In this important study, Small shows, both through up-close interviews with young adults undergoing major life changes and with general surveys of Americans, that we find the help we need from all sorts of people-those to whom we are close, those who are just acquaintances, and even those whom we have just met. This is a valuable correction to the often overly abstract literature on social networks." --Claude S. Fischer, University of California, Berkeley

"The reality of who affects our lives through contact is much more complicated, messy, and sometimes even random than contemporary theory and methods suggest. This fascinating book taps into the complex, networked fabric of our lives, revealing ground truth." --Bernice Pescosolido, Indiana University

"In Someone To Talk To, Mario Small brings relations to life as solutions to problems that people face when they need a hand or an ear. The net we cast as we struggle with our anxieties and concerns is as wide and subtle as this book, which reminds us that our interactions with others are much more delicate than the clumsy representation of ties in graphs would suggest." --Peter Bearman, Columbia University

"Who you turn to when you want someone to talk to will surprise you. But whomever you talk to, you'll be talking about this book. It's extraordinary!" --Eldar Shafir, Princeton University

"Refreshing. Someone To Talk To is very readable, yet reflects deep theoretical and methodical advances in sociology. I think this book is a winner both for its theoretical and methodological achievements." --Nan Lin, Duke University

"Mario Small's book Someone to Talk To turns received wisdom on its head in several ways - reorienting us to the role of weak ties in contrast to strong ones, moving us beyond network structure to practices and norms embedded in the networks we inhabit, and focusing our attention on empathy and the ways in which we find it. The book is a tour de force." --Karen S. Cook, Stanford University

Table of Contents

    Preface ix

    PART I: The Question
    1. Confidants

    PART II: The First Year
    2. Weak- Tie Confidants
    3. Beyond Named Confidants
    4. Incompatible Expectations
    5. Relevance and Empathy
    6. Because They Were There

    PART III: Beyond Graduate Students
    7. Empirical Generalizability
    8. Theoretical Generalizability
    A Final Word

    PART IV: Appendices
    Appendix A: Qualitative Analysis
    Appendix B: Quantitative Analysis

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